High-society Victorians had a formal way to meet new friends. No playground visits, no social media.
The only proper method was an exchange of calling cards, often called “visiting cards.” The system gave the elite a chance to screen newcomers and reject the “unwanted.” The man’s card was small enough to fit in his breast pocket. The woman’s card was a little larger. Both were engraved with the person’s name and a title, such as Mr. or Mrs., or rank, like Governor, in a simple typestyle. By the end of the century, an address was included, and the typescript was more elaborate.
To meet a neighbor, you went in a carriage to deliver a calling card. Your driver gave it to a maid, who took it to the lady of the house. She decided if she was “not at home” or “at home.” The “at home” meant you could meet right away. “Not at home” meant she didn’t want to meet you then and may never want to meet you.
A card was left on the pile in a silver dish in the hall. The card with the most impressive name was kept on the top.
Calling cards for those of lower social standing were decorated by the end of the 19th century, and these are the ones most collected today. Colorful flowers, birds, hands, faces or designs surround the simple name. Most sell today for $1 to $10.
The special silver-plated card trays are another collectible. They often are designed to look like a ceramic dish on a pedestal with a cloth draped on the side or with birds perched in a corner. The imaginative decorations made it clear that the dishes were not meant to serve food. A silver-plated calling-card dish sells for about $150 to $300.
Q: Years ago, I purchased a Shaker-style rocker at a tag sale. There’s a metal plate on it that reads “American Chair Mfg. Co., Hallstead, Pa.” and “Made for G.E. Finkel Furn. Co., Sussex, N.J.” The seat appears to have the original metal coils, with burlap wrapped around horsehair. Can you give me any information about the maker of this rocking chair?
A: The American Chair Manufacturing Co. was in business from 1892 to 1930. The company was listed in directories in Brandt and Hallstead, Pa. It was known for its Arts and Crafts furniture, which it first made in 1904.
Tip: Don’t stack boxes of Christmas ornaments. The weight may break some of the glass ornaments.